The composition is such as to be more than an icon. It is a portable temple of the devi. The inverted lotus She is sitting on is placed on a layered platform that is highly aesthetically appealing. She is flanked by a couple of lions that gaze straight ahead with the same stateliness as their mistress. The aureole that seemingly contains the composition is adorned with traditional faunal motifs such as horses, elephants, and peacock, not to mention the ferocious kirtimukha carved at the very top. The unusual, jawless kirtimukha motif recurs in Indian visual art since the fourth century, and stands for the cyclical and destructive nature of time. Equally ornate legs hold the complete bronze structure in place.
There is so much about this unusual composition that conforms to the iconography of this much-venerated deity. His dense locks are gathered atop His head, upon which is the distinct roop of Devi Ganga and secured with a sliver of the moon. Myth has it that She descended onto the North Indian plains from the tresses of the lord, sweeping it with abundance and fertility. The hem of the loincloth grazes His knee, leaving the rest of the legs bare. On one hand is the characteristic trishool, the all-important damroo in the other. Beneath His dancing feet is the skin of a tiger brought to its knees by the lord. Note the snakes that are coiled around His ankles and neck, the stripes of vibhooti that grace His brow, and the superbly pronounced composure of countenance, putting together a picture of overpowering ferocity.
Despite the fearsome iconography, Kali Devi is not devoid of beauty. Her musculature is lissome; Her tresses so luscious it is enough to clothe Her usually naked person. Her shringar becomes Her status as the wife of Shiva - chunky amulets and wristlets for each of Her ten arms, anklets that weigh upon the torso of Shiva beneath Her feet, and ample necklaces and kundalas. The dharmic devotee discovers on Her stern brow the solace of maternal protection. Note how Her third eye has been engraved onto Her forehead, right below the hem of the haloed crown. A dual-layered aureole frames the composition, with a layer of lotus petals jutting outwards and a sequence of waves along the inner edges. The calm Shiva lies outstretched on a thick lotus pedestal, a panel engraved with wave-like curves separating Him from the petals.
The rest of His iconography is replete with the usual details that set the Indian iconography apart from the rest of the world. Shiva performs the Rudratandava upon the skilfully engraved base of an inverted lotus. He is dressed in a short dhoti that sits snugly around the thigh, a richly embroidered sash from which emerges down to the pedestal. This single garment is held in place by an ornate taselled kamarband that He wears right below the navel. The janeu cascades diagonially down His handsome torso, while a clutch of necklaces spread about His neck and shoulders. The multiple bracelets on each of His arms and the anklets on His dancing feet complete His divine shringar. The most striking aspect of this composition is the awe-inspiring composure of countenance - superbly graceful features are complemented by the symmetry of the face and the large kundala-adorned ears. The magnificent, slender crown that towers atop His brow sets off the roundness of the same.
Also known as Haryardhamurti, the origins of this deity have been propounded in the Vamanapurana. When the devas gathered before Vishnu in their search for Shiva, Vishnu had revealed this form to them. Harihara could have also been formed to vanquish the arrogant demon Guhasura whom Brahma had given a boon. The boon in question stated that neither Hari (Vishnu) nor Hara (Shiva) would be able to kill him. Harihara is the deity to have overpowered and slayed Him; the place where this happened in Chitradurga, Karnataka, is now named after this deity and houses a lovely Shankaranarayana temple (Shankara is another name for Shiva; Narayana, for Vishnu). The iconography in question could be traced to centuries ago, specifically to the Kusana period of Indian history.
At the juncture of awakening, when the former prince of a North Indian warring clan transitioned from the hungering acetic to the Buddha Himself, He touched (sparsha) a finger to the earth (bhumi), invoking it as His witness. The sootras narrate how the grahas (planets) came to a standstill and the entirety of jivas (living creatures) made their obeisance to Him. Despite being beyond the scope of art and literature, the superb brasswork captures the glamour of Shakyamuni's unsurpassed awakening. "Do not look to me," Shakyamuni had said, "but to the enlightenment state."
Hinduism is a very complex dharma, and Vishnu its most complex deity. Part of the holy trinity comprising of Brahma (creator), Vishnu (preserver), and Shiva (destroyer), to Vaishnavas He is the overlord while Brahma and Shiva merely do His bidding. His form is boundless, character non-specific, influence wide-ranging. His slender crown looms atop His head, at the back of which glows an engaved angular halo.
The first impression gleaned from a cursory glance at the Nataraja is one of dynamic energy. In stark contrast to the Mahayogin image of Shiva wherein His divine energies are seemingly drawn inward, Nataraja exudes His force in all eight directions. His presence pervades all spaces, across all quanta of time. His limbs are in natyasthana: the right foot crushes the pulverises the apasmara that is the very picture of tamas, while the left foot is raised mid-air to the right of His torso.
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